The Rebellious Freedom Fighter

Banda Aceh, TAG - A leader of the Aceh chapter of the Islamic United Development Party has a telling anecdote to tell about Teungku Daud Beureu’eh: “I will never forget his anger when I said that it was better to accept Dr. Mansyur’s invitation to attend the All-Sumatra Conference. He hit me with his cane saying: “How else will we get a nation that is explicitly based on Belief in God?”

History of course goes on to record that the Nation of East Sumatra failed in its effort to mobilize forces against the Republic of Indonesia led by Sukarno and Hatta, at that time (in 1949) detained by the Dutch. This is just one of several stories about Teungku Daud Beureu’eh that I collected in Aceh at the beginning of the 1980s.
Golkar had lost the 1982 elections in Aceh. The high official who assigned me to undertake research into the causes of the defeat alleged that Golkar’s loss had led Suharto to ask, “Is Aceh opposed to Pancasila?” I set off for Aceh to find the answer to this rather odd question (did Suharto think that it was only Golkar who adhered to the nation’s five sacred principles known as Pancasila?).
The causes of Golkar’s loss turned out to be easy to establish. But by then I had become more concerned with researching Aceh’s vision of itself and its place in history and in the socio-national sphere. For two weeks I roamed up and down Aceh’s east coast, detoured for two days to Takengon, and finally reached Medan. So I traveled almost entirely in the Aceh and Gayo ethnic areas.
The discussions I enjoyed throughout my journey seemed to present me with the full spectrum of the Achenese experience. I was regaled with history, folklore, myth, historical pride, hopes, complaints and curses.
All kinds of Achenese, from civil servants and ulama (Islamic scholars) to merchants, smoothly told me tales of Samudra Pasai as the oldest Islamic kingdom, of the colonial war in Aceh—the longest and costliest for the Dutch, of Hamzah Fansuri, of Abdurrauf al-Singkili...you name it.

“Aceh is the beginning.”
The Seulawah C-47 Dakota plane that Aceh contributed to the war effort is an unforgettable icon and the Acehnese are proud of it. But once the various uplifting stories drew to a close, there was invariably a long sigh. “The situation in Aceh is so sangsai (messed up),” said a leader in East Aceh. All across Aceh, the conversations would keep returning to regional pride, with a tone that seemed to demand recognition and appreciation.
At this stage various revolutionary tales would be repeated again and again and the bitter experience of the 1950s “Regional Incident” would be recalled. In the collective memory that was recounted to me, Tgk Daud Beureu’eh was often the principal name mentioned. But deep inside me, doubts emerged: “Was it exactly like that?”
According to the critique of Snouck Hurgronje, a well-known expert on Aceh in the 1900s, Tgk Daud Beureu’eh succeeded in making social role differences into a basis of ideological rivalry due to his ability to exploit a gap in the Acehnese leadership. While this policy was based on a wrong assumption, its constant and consistent application eventually created a new reality.
The national revolution in Aceh was not only about sacrifices for the new nation, but also about bloody conflicts between the nobles or uleebalang and the followers of the ulama, who banded together in the All-Aceh Ulama Association (PUSA).
Moreover, the sources that I have read indicate that the “Regional Incident” in the 1950s was also not free of the rivalry between these two wings of the Acehnese leadership. However in my interviews this internal conflict was mentioned only in passing, as the discussion focused on Aceh’s confrontation with external powers, whether they be the Dutch or the central government. In that context Tgk Daud Beureu’eh is mentioned again and again.
I obtained irrefutable verification fairly easily of the story that Aceh’s involvement in the national revolution became more intensive after Daud Beureu’eh and his three colleagues proclaimed support for the Republic of Indonesia in October 1945.
The declaration was also signed by T. Nyak Arief, Aceh regional head, and Tuanku Mahmud, National Committee chairman. At first glance, the cooperation of the regional head and the chairman of the National Committee is not unusual. But I believe that in the early days of the revolution, before the grassroots movement involved in the internal conflict rose to the surface, their joining together was intended to symbolically convey the unity of the ulama and the sultanate’s aristocrats in supporting the new nation.
Tragically, the “Cumbok Incident” and later the PUSA youth movement incited a social revolution against what was called “feudalism”, ending the short honeymoon. As had happened earlier during the Aceh War, the ulama gained influence as Aceh’s “messengers of truth”, and the central position of Daud Beureu’eh became stronger.
It was at this time that Sukarno came to Aceh and promised the ulama his support. Legend has it that Sukarno called Beureu’eh “older brother”, and told him that he would support Aceh in applying Islamic Syariah law. While this story cannot be confirmed, what is clear is that it has always been repeated and written. As it is generally regarded as the truth, should we doubt Sukarno’s honesty in this regard?
The revolutionary era is an era that makes the Acehnese people proud. Not only were they free of Dutch colonialism, but it was also a time when Aceh enjoyed the exhilaration and challenges of being an autonomous province. Tgk Daud Beureu’eh was the military governor, supported by a strong network of local leaders.
His position was enhanced when Yogyakarta was returned to the hands of the republic and Sjarifuddin Prawiranegara became deputy prime minister residing in Kuta Raja, now Banda Aceh. However, once full sovereignty was gained and the Republic of the United States of Indonesia (RIS) was established, Aceh was made a part of North Sumatra.
When the RIS was abolished and replaced by the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia, the decision was reconfirmed. It is true that the central government faced various dilemmas as a consequence of the difficult choice between the need to streamline government administration and continuing to accommodate revolutionary aspirations, but for the Acehnese the dismantling of their province was regarded as a betrayal and an insult. I was repeatedly reminded of several small snubs by government officials against Tgk Daud Beureu’eh.
During the time when central government officials still spared time to listen to Acehnese wishes and tried to calm their anger, dialog could still be maintained. But when the administration changed and the central government viewed the Aceh problem as only an internal rivalry between Acehnese leaders, something predictable happened.
Tgk. Daud Beureu’eh left for the jungle, coinciding with the occasion of the 3rd National Games (PON) in Medan, September 21, 1953. It is ironic that he rebelled at the time that a symbolic gesture of national unity was taking place in the form of a national sporting event. But wasn’t it also ironic that a freedom fighter was pushed aside for administrative reasons?
As part of his “escape to the jungle”, similar to what Kahar Muzakar did in South Sulawesi, he joined with the NII (Islamic State of Indonesia)/Darul Islam based in West Java. He also approached the Indonesian Unitary Republic/PRRI. In other words, this ulama/politician only wanted Aceh to be part of an alternative unitary state of RI: an Islamic State and/or a federal state—but not as a separate nation. He rebelled, but he was not a separatist. Nine years later he returned from the jungle, defeated but welcomed with respect.
The “Regional Incident” ended. Aceh became a special region, permitted to apply Syariah law. But the question I was often asked is: on what terms was Aceh given special treatment? Another question: if only 10 percent of revenue produced by Aceh is given back to the Acehnese, can they be satisfied and grateful? A merchant in Lhokseumawe said: “Where is justice when a square meter of land is valued lower than a square meter of plastic sheet?” The merchant may be dramatizing the issue, but the voices raised against injustice are becoming louder.
Meanwhile, Tgk Daud Beureu’eh was turned into an icon, a historic museum relic, to only be viewed and contemplated. The New Order not only controlled politics and the economy, but also controlled the monopoly on the nation’s collective memory. When this monopoly ceased to exist, no wonder the pot boiled over. What has now surfaced is not merely the desire for an alternative to the state system, but a wish to separate from a nation and state that the Acehnese people once fought fiercely for.[]
* The writer is a historian, former head of the National Institute of Sciences (LIPI)

The Rebellious Freedom Fighter The Rebellious Freedom Fighter Reviewed by Nurdin Hasan on July 10, 2012 Rating: 5

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